Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why privatization and corporate delivery of human and communty services to vulnerable people should be opposed

It is, instead, almost surely a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality, of a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.
Paul Krugman

When a market liberal like Paul Krugman writes in a mainstream US newspaper about the horrors resulting from the privatization of human services to corporate and for profit providers it is more evidence that the privatization of public functions and the corporate delivery of  human and community services to vulnerable and marginalised people must be opposed.

Krugman's piece focuses on an investigation by the The New York Times about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons.  Krugman writes that the horrors described in the New York Times piece are not an isolated example but part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded. 
Krugman also highlights how the privatization of public functions is built upon powerful networks and connections between politicians, elected offocials, lobbyits and the corporations who win the contracts.

Krugman writes:

"... the Times’s reports instead portray something closer to hell on earth — an understaffed, poorly run system, with a demoralized work force, from which the most dangerous individuals often escape to wreak havoc, while relatively mild offenders face terror and abuse at the hands of other inmates.
It’s a terrible story. But, as I said, you really need to see it in the broader context of a nationwide drive on the part of America’s right to privatize government functions, very much including the operation of prisons. What’s behind this drive?
You might be tempted to say that it reflects conservative belief in the magic of the marketplace, in the superiority of free-market competition over government planning. And that’s certainly the way right-wing politicians like to frame the issue......
So what’s really behind the drive to privatize prisons, and just about everything else?
One answer is that privatization can serve as a stealth form of government borrowing, in which governments avoid recording upfront expenses (or even raise money by selling existing facilities) while raising their long-run costs in ways taxpayers can’t see. We hear a lot about the hidden debts that states have incurred in the form of pension liabilities; we don’t hear much about the hidden debts now being accumulated in the form of long-term contracts with private companies hired to operate prisons, schools and more.
Another answer is that privatization is a way of getting rid of public employees, who do have a habit of unionizing and tend to lean Democratic in any case.
But the main answer, surely, is to follow the money. Never mind what privatization does or doesn’t do to state budgets; think instead of what it does for both the campaign coffers and the personal finances of politicians and their friends. As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business. Are the corporations capturing the politicians, or the politicians capturing the corporations? Does it matter?
Now, someone will surely point out that nonprivatized government has its own problems of undue influence, that prison guards and teachers’ unions also have political clout, and this clout sometimes distorts public policy. Fair enough. But such influence tends to be relatively transparent. Everyone knows about those arguably excessive public pensions; it took an investigation by The Times over several months to bring the account of New Jersey’s halfway-house-hell to light.
The point, then, is that you shouldn’t imagine that what The Times discovered about prison privatization in New Jersey is an isolated instance of bad behavior. It is, instead, almost surely a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality, of a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Reclaiming the history of social justice activism

This story of social justice advocacy is a reminder of the ways that the contribution of radical and progressive social justice activists and campaigners is censored by so called "official narratives" and traditional bodies of knowledge.

Ken Giles* is an elementary school music teacher in Washington DC who uses music to teach his students the link between songs and social justice movements. He uses civil rights songs, peace songs and union songs to make the connection between music and movements for social justice and peace.

Giles is spearheading a campaign to have the acclaimed singer, actor, political activist Paul Robeson inluded in the music textbooks used in schools. Decades ago Robeson was censored from most school books because of his political activism and fierce critcism of US treatment of African Americans and US foreign policies.

As Ken Giles points out even though Robeson is experiencing something of a renaissance in the US, it is still difficult to find his recordings and films, and his work and contribution is not included in many school textbooks.

Giles argues that Robeson's exclusion is an example of the censorship that occurs in the educational textbook industry. In his own campaigning Giles is encouraging his students and other professionals to challenge such censorship.

For those of us who believe in and campaign for social and economic justice Ken Giles's actions show that it is important that we reclaim the history and contributions of social movements and individuals who fought for social and economic justice.

*Ken Giles is the music teacher at Shepherd Elementary School in Washington, DC. He teaches violin at the DC Youth Orchestra and sings with the DC Labor Chorus. He is a longtime member of Jewish Peace Fellowship and was a Conscientious Objector during the Vietnam War. You can read about his "150 years of Songs of Freedom and Justice” music history program at the Labor Heritage Foundation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Australia book on the Third Sector in Australia

I look forward to reading  the new book Driven by Purpose: Charities that Make a Difference by Australian authors Stephen Judd and Ann Robinson.

In particular, those of us committed to the growth, importance and value of the third sector need more books like this, written by Australians who work in the third sector and who write about the Australian sector from an Australia perspective. And we need more publications and book publishers willing to publish about the sector.

A brief review of the book here  in Third Sector Magazine tells us that:
Driven by purpose is a new handbook on how to lead and manage an efficient and accountable NFP organisation and contains insightful commentary on the current debate, strategy and action surrounding the role of the charitable sector in Australia.
Driven by purpose is written by Dr Stephen Judd and Anne Robinson, two of Australia’s most experienced and respected leaders in the NFP sector, as well as Felicity Errington who is an emerging leader with expertise in research and policy, international development and gender issues.
The book highlights the importance of being purpose-driven, explaining that it affects the character, operation, direction and strategies of an organisation.
The book explains that a truly purpose-driven NFP has the ‘who’ and ‘why’ at its very core saying “These are not simply academic theories and concepts that are nice to have but affect the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the organisation, and are essential for organisations to deliver high performance.
 Driven by purpose sheds light on the important issues of identity and purpose by exploring:
  • The scope and size of the NFP sector in Australia
  • The history of the NFP sector in Australia
  • The role that NFPs play in society and why they are vital for a healthy society
  • What is meant by ‘charity’ and language wars that affect its identity
  • Whether the predominance of faith-based charities in Australia an issue
  • In addition, the book explores how being purpose-driven works in practice, and provides ten useful tips on how to survive NFP law".
Whilst I concur completely with the idea that successful NGO's are purpose driven and that a focus on being "purpose driven" should shape all key aspects of an agency including its character, operation culture direction and strategy, I am also somewhat wary of  the idea that NGO's can find singular recipes for success. But I will know more about that once I read the book.